How to Teach IELTS

I started this blog long ago over at Blogger, under the name Back then I was teaching IELTS, but it wasn’t really the focus of my teaching. My students just studied for IELTS a bit, and I was teaching them a mix of IELTS and business and general English lessons. When I migrated this blog over from Blogger to this present domain, I didn’t delete the lessons that seemed unrelated to IELTS. I only deleted the weakest lessons and those that had links to worksheets that no longer worked. Why? Because besides what some people think, IELTS isn’t a self-contained discipline that has to be studied in a vacuum. IELTS is a test of English, and the better your English, the better your score in the exam. So you’llĀ  find some materials on this site that aren’t explicitly related to the IELTS exam, but that will be helpful for your IELTS students. The question remains, though: How do you teach IELTS? Well, there are a multitude of approaches. In this article, I will outline a few important ways you can learn to teach IELTS.

6 Helpful IELTS Teaching Tips:

1. Know the IELTS Exam

This is, above all else, the most important thing. If it is your job to prepare students for sitting the IELTS exam, then you absolutely need to know about the exam. You need to know the basics, but you also need to know the minute details. For a start, the listening exam has four sections… but each section has a pretty predictable format and each section is more difficult than the one before it. The speaking exam is comprised of three parts… these also have different formats. What about the writing exam? Could you explain the basics of writing task 1? You need to know all of this before you begin teaching IELTS to your students. Remember that many IELTS students will already know a lot about the exam, and your job is to know even more than that, and train them in exam preparation.

Learning about the IELTS exam is pretty easy and won’t take you very long. You can look online, of course. Just Google “IELTS” to begin finding the most basic information. If you have an IELTS textbook (which you should) it will likely begin with a few pages of exam overview. The textbooks typically contain lots of “exam hints and tips” that will help you as a novice teacher as well as your students.

2. Start with the Basics

When teaching English (or any other language) it is obvious that you should start with the basics. You begin with “hello” and pointing at some pictures of common objects to instruct vocabulary. However, with exams like the IELTS, your students will already be quite proficient in English and they will have their eyes on a target band score. One problem I’ve had with many of my students in the past is that they want to run before they can walk. They decide they will study in America or Australia or the UK, and they know they need to get a 6.5 or 7.0. They don’t want to waste time with the basics but… well, that’s actually really important.

If your students are new to IELTS, don’t skip ahead. Start from scratch and move forward at a suitable pace. Practice all parts of the exam and master all question types and topics. If they really are advanced, there’s plenty of room to expand. But don’t skip over anything. Many Chinese students, for exam, feel that the reading exam is something they shouldn’t waste time on because they do so much reading practice and vocabulary memorization at school. Yet learning the reading question types and the strategies for finding answers is essential.

3. Don’t Waste Time with Vocabulary

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t teach vocabulary. The title says it all – don’t waste time. In general English practice, we spend a lot of time teaching new words. In IELTS, you want to teach students how to use their language more accurately. When doing speaking and writing, you should work on error correction more than the acquisition of new language. A student who can use quite basic language with very few errors is much easier to understand than one who repeats dozens of long words in totally incomprehensible ways. (Trust me, I’ve marked thousands of essays and sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy.) Students who are easier to understand will also score higher than others.

Here in Asia, you find many teachers will instruct their students to learn vast lists of new vocabulary. The result is that they can claim to know 6,000 English words but yet not hold a basic conversation. I know many Chinese students who could write a list of perfectly spelled 10- and 12- letter words and yet if I asked, “How was your weekend?” they would panic and turn red, with no idea how to answer me. This is utterly useless for IELTS.

4. Balance Practice and Theory

Practice makes perfect… or so the saying goes. I actually tell my students that all the time because it seems like it’s true. But you do need some theory mixed in as well. Students still need grammar lessons. They still need to learn new vocabulary from time to time. They also need to know exam techniques. An ideal IELTS lesson will incorporate all of this seamlessly. If you are a really experienced teacher, you can make this sort of lesson and teach it yourself, but the best way is just to get a course book of some kind. The Collins series of IELTS textbooks is pretty useful in this respect. These books contain a good balance of vocab, grammar, exam techniques, and practice.

Most books will follow a pretty predictable formula that is wise for a teacher to consider in any lesson. It’s basically input -> output. You start with a bit of vocab, throw in some grammar point, analyze a type of question, practice it, and then move on to some more realistic exam practice. All this should center around one IELTS topic.

5. Feedback is EssentialĀ 

For certain parts of the IELTS exam, a student could more or less prepare online or from a book, without a teacher’s help. The listening and reading sections are like this. Although with a teacher, it is better, a student could feasibly prepare for the IELTS themselves. What students look for, then, in a teacher is someone who’s going to help them with speaking and writing, as these are almost impossible to adequately prepare for without a native speaking teacher. The reason is simple – feedback. A student can get a set of past papers or do a listening test online, and check their answers after. (Of course, knowing why an answer was wrong is problematic.) However, you just can’t do this with the productive sections.

It is therefore imperative that you give helpful feedback. Although it can be utterly exhausting, a teacher must constantly mark students’ writing. Ideally, you would then want students to write the essay again with your recommended changes implemented. This will result in fast improvement of their writing skills. In terms of speaking, students ought to get more gentle but also consistent feedback. Don’t point out every mistake or you will crush their confidence, but be helpful and fair.

6. One Last Thought – Do the exam yourself!!!

Yeah, that’s right. You don’t have to sit the actual exam, but do a practice test. See what you think. You’ll see that even if you have no idea what to expect, as a native speaker you should get a very high score because it’s essentially just a test of English ability. However, it can be a little confusing even for native speakers and so exam practice and specific techniques are important to know. If you want to learn how to teach IELTS writing or how to teach IELTS reading, for example, teaching the exam for yourself really will prove helpful.


I could have made this article 10,000 words long. (Hey, there’s a great idea for a book!) However, I’ve tried to keep it short and readable. This is just a basic guide to help you learn how to teach IELTS. It’s not hard to learn the basics of the exam, but a good teacher should be able to go further than that. You should be able to answer all your students’ questions and make them feel confident that they can succeed in their goals.

Head Teacher
I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

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